Big Chill vs. Global Warming: What's Going On?

LiveScience.com

The recent, rare snow in Jerusalem and parts of Lebanon, along with freezing temperatures for Southern California have not nixed the reality of climate change. The planet is warming, and chilled weather doesn't negate that fact, say climate experts.

In fact, such "rare" storms are expected in a warming world.

"As the globe warms, regions of the Earth that have cold winters will still have cold winters, and we will still see the random rolls of the weather dice, like we are seeing this winter," climate scientist Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University told LiveScience. "But climate change is loading the weather dice, so that 'sixes' are becoming more common, and 'ones' are becoming less common."   

No single weather event can be pegged to climate change, which is a long-term trend that over time affects weather, and it affects the weather in different regions in different ways. Rather, as the planet warms, the chances of an extreme-weather event, including very large snowfalls, increase. That is, the dice are loaded for extreme events. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

"Climate is the statistics of weather over the long term," Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institute for Science at Stanford University, told LiveScience last year. "No specific weather event can by itself confirm or disprove the body of scientific knowledge associated with climate change."

Global warming with a side of chill

A big chill crept over California this weekend, with temperatures in a San Diego county dipping to 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius), breaking a record set in 2007. And, according to news reports and the National Weather Service, San Diego beaches may have gotten a coating of morning frost, while a freeze warning remains in effect until Tuesday morning for the San Joaquin Valley.

Meanwhile, a storm system dumped 4-6 inches (10-15 centimeters) of snow on Jerusalem last week, killing at least eight people. And sleet and freezing rain will stretch across parts of the Southeast today and Tuesday, according to weather.com. [The World's Weirdest Weather]

Amidst the chilly headlines, however, Earth continues to break heat records left and right. "It's easy to cherry pick and find places that might be unusually cold at any given time, for example Southern California right now," Mann told LiveScience in an email. "But meanwhile, daffodils are coming up in Cincinnati.

"Over the past decade, we have seen daily records for all-time warmth broken twice as often as daily records for all-time cold," Mann wrote. "The year 2012 had the highest ratio we have ever recorded, more than four to one. That's like 'sixes' coming up four times as often as 'ones.'"

Here's how cold temperatures and snowfall can abound in some regions while the Earth warms: Warm air holds more moisture than its cold counterpart. That means if the temperature is low enough, "those warmer winters will counter-intuitively favor larger snowfall events," Mann explained.

And modest cooling is expected to result from global warming in some regions. For instance, Mann explained, models forecast a slowdown of the warm, poleward-moving ocean current in the North Atlantic, a slowing that will modestly cool that part of the ocean.

Most of Earth getting hotter

"But these are highly seasonal and regional effects," Mann said. "The vast majority of the globe will warm substantially over the next century, likely with profound negative consequences, if we continue to heat the planet by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations through fossil-fuel burning."

In fact, at least in the United States, 2012 was the hottest year on record, smashing the previous warmest year, 1998. And the past decade set itself apart in terms of extreme weather, from heat waves and drought to flooding, something scientists say can be, in part, attributed to climate change.

"It is very likely that several of the unprecedented extremes of the past decade would not have occurred without anthropocentric global warming," study researchers wrote in the March 25, 2012, issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. In that study, two scientists reviewed extreme weather events going back to 2000 as well as research into possible connections with global warming.

Since 1950, human-caused climate change seems to have brought on more extreme weather, with even more such extremes expected this century, reported the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body charged with assessing climate change, in 2011.

So far this year, the United States has set 630 records for highest maximum temperature versus 114 records for lowest minimum temperature, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

"When you step back and look at what is happening overall, it is very clear that we are seeing overall warming, and a dramatic increase in record-breaking heat around the world," said Mann, pointing out the record heat and wildfires happening in Australia right now and the record heat experienced in the United States this past summer.

"They are both symptomatic of the perceptible and profound impact that climate change is already having on our weather," Mann added.

Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
View Comments (1698)

Recommended for You

  • Hurricane-strength winds pummel Europe, four killed

    By Michael Hogan HAMBURG (Reuters) - At least four people were killed on Tuesday when hurricane-force winds lashed northern Europe in one of the most severe storms in years, forcing flights to be canceled and disrupting road, train and marine traffic. The Dutch meteorological office issued a red…

    Reuters
  • United States sets official strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday published plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, part of a strategy to generate momentum for a global agreement later this year on combating climate change. The formal…

    Reuters
  • Air and sea traffic disrupted as 120 km winds batter Netherlands

    Spring storms battered the Netherlands with gusts of up to 120 kilometers an hour on Tuesday, causing Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to cancel flights and the closure of two container terminals at the port of Rotterdam. Gale force winds sweeping in from the North Sea disrupted land and marine…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; 17 dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Heavy rains and a landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed 17 people, police said on Tuesday, as Indian authorities continued working to rescue stranded villagers, with unseasonal rains raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. …

    Reuters
  • Ocean warming suggests 50 percent chance of El Nino-Australia

    By Colin Packham SYDNEY (Reuters) - Recent warming of the Pacific Ocean may signal an El Nino weather event is forming, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday. Climate models indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with El Nino thresholds to be…

    Reuters
  • Vanuatu risks long-term food insecurity after monster cyclone: U.N.

    By Alisa Tang BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The monster cyclone that hit Vanuatu earlier this month wiped out more than 90 percent of the archipelago's crops, putting its people at risk of a secondary emergency and long-term food insecurity, the United Nations warned on Monday. Tropical…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; six dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed six people and left 10 missing, police said on Monday, as unseasonal rains swept India, damaging crops and raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. Hundreds of people fled their homes…

    Reuters
  • Harsh weather cripples fishing and tourism on Cameroon's coast

    By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame KRIBI, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For over 15 years, Raoul Meno has been fishing the waters off the coastal town of Kribi in southern Cameroon. A bout of persistent heavy rains and surging tides this year has made fishing in Kribi increasingly difficult and…

    Reuters
  • Air Canada plane landed short, hit antennas in Halifax accident

    By Mark Blinch HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - An Air Canada plane that suffered heavy damage in an accident in the east coast city of Halifax on Sunday landed short of the runway and hit an antenna array, losing its landing gear, safety officials said. "They touched down 1,100 feet (335 meters)…

    Reuters
  • U.S. to submit plans to fight global warming; most others delay

    By Alister Doyle and Valerie Volcovici OSLO/WASHINGTON - The United States will submit plans for slowing global warming to the United Nations early this week but most governments will miss an informal March 31 deadline, complicating work on a global climate deal due in December. The U.S.…

    Reuters
  • Modi's popularity in rural India punctured by discontent, suicides

    By Mayank Bhardwaj VAIDI, India (Reuters) - Over a dozen debt-laden farmers have committed suicide in recent weeks in India, and discontent in many rural areas against government policies is turning into anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a year after he swept into office. …

    Reuters
  • Chile desert rains sign of climate change: chief weather scientist

    By Rosalba O'Brien SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The heavy rainfall that battered Chile's usually arid north this week happened because of climate change, a senior meteorologist said, as the region gradually returns to normal after rivers broke banks and villages were cut off. "For Chile, this particular…

    Reuters
  • Mexico unveils national strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico on Friday said it will cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2026, becoming one of the first countries to formally submit its national climate plan to the United Nations ahead of a climate summit in Paris in December. Mexico's Foreign and…

    Reuters
  • Fed must take account of global economy in U.S. outlook: Yellen

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve must take the global economy into account when judging the U.S. domestic outlook, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday, noting that a stronger dollar buoyed by weakness abroad may restrain U.S. exports Still, she added, U.S. consumer…

    Reuters
  • In reversal, crash-hit Lufthansa agrees to two-crew in cockpit rule

    Lufthansa said on Friday it would introduce new rules requiring two crew members in cockpits at all times, a swift reversal after its CEO said such a change was not needed despite the crash at its Germanwings subsidiary. The European Union said it would now advise all EU airlines to require two…

    Reuters
  • Sierra Leone capital 'eerily quiet' amid Ebola lockdown

    By Umaru Fofana FREETOWN (Reuters) - The capital of Sierra Leone was "eerily quiet" on Friday at the start of a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of an Ebola epidemic in the worst affected country. Liberia has just one known case left and the three countries have set a…

    Reuters
  • Lufthansa to toughen up cockpit rules

    Lufthansa said it will introduce new rules requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times after one of the pilots at its Germanwings unit crashed a plane in the French Alps. Prosecutors believe Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked himself alone in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 on Tuesday and…

    Reuters
  • Poland to charge two Russian officials over Kaczynski plane crash

    Poland said on Friday it would bring charges against two Russian air traffic controllers over a 2010 plane crash which killed then Polish president Lech Kaczynski, a move likely to damage bilateral relations already strained by the Ukraine crisis. Prosecutor Ireneusz Szelag from the District…

    Reuters
  • Drought, warm weather bring 'smog day' memories in California

    By Sharon Bernstein KINGS COUNTY, Calif. (Reuters) - The brown haze over California's San Joaquin Valley breadbasket on some winter days has been an unwelcome reminder of the bad old days, when pollution hung so thickly that people were warned to stay inside. Years of tight environmental rules…

    Reuters
  • India turns to 'satellite god' for crop mapping

    By Ratnajyoti Dutta NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Sher Singh, a farmer from India's desert state of Rajasthan, prays to Varuna, the Hindu god of water, for a bountiful harvest. Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to promote a "per drop, more crop" approach to farming to make better use of scarce water,…

    Reuters